Afghanistan: Community Defense or Just Another Militia?

Afghanistan’s history has long been shaped by the interaction of militias with the state. Since 2001, Kabul and its foreign backers have returned repeatedly to militias and local defense forces’ to try to fill gaps in security. Most prominent among many such forces, the Afghan Local Police (ALP) and, from 2018, the Afghan National Army Territorial Force have been promoted as bottom-up’ state-building, of harnessing the local community to secure territory. But all too often these programs have merely re-hatted’ existing militias. They have reinforced criminal or factional interests and led to poor accountability and abuses. The Afghanistan Analysts Network and GPPi have been engaged in a three-year project looking into the attractions and consequences of such local and sub-state forces. Why is the ALP the Taleban’s Enemy Number One? Have any of the efforts to improve accountability or adapt the model worked? What makes for a bad versus a good (or at least better) ALP – one that protects, rather than abuses the population? And what is the long-term impact of such mobilization, as the conflict goes – often nastily – local? What does it mean for state control and the political economy of mobilizing, and later, de-mobilizing, fighters? In addition to the Afghanistan-related research below, the main page and Iraq page for this project offer additional comparative learning and analysis. 

Case Studies


Project Team

Erica Gaston

Non-Resident Fellow

Mario Domisse

Circle of Friends

Philipp Rotmann

Associate Director

Funding & Partners

This project was commissioned and financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands through WOTRO Science for Global Development of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO-WOTRO). It was developed in collaboration with the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law (KPSRL) as part of the Ministry’s agenda to invest in knowledge and to contribute to more evidence-based policymaking. The project is jointly implemented by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) in Berlin, the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), and the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) at the American University in Sulaimani in Iraq.